Precious director Lee Daniels
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/
O: How did you find first-time actress Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Precious?

Lee Daniels: "I had no idea how hard it would be. You cannot call a Hollywood agent and say, 'Hey, got any 300-pound black girls?' We did a massive search that went on for months; we even had 'Precious camps,' where 30 girls would work with an acting coach. A lot of them were the character; they had lived the life. Gabby has not lived the life, although she is physically the character. She has a worldly sensibility, and she's very smart about taking direction—no one else could dive into those fantasy sequences like Gabby."

O: You cast two very famous women, Mariah Carey and Mo'Nique , who are almost unrecognizable in the film…

Daniels: "Most actors want the audience to like them, and that leads to bad acting. I told Mo'Nique, 'Your character will not be redeemed, but she will be understood.' That made sense to her.

"Mariah is a good friend, and she's incredible at imitating voices. She does the best Aretha Franklin anybody has ever heard. I knew she could do that [ imitates her character's Long Island accent ] Lawn-Guyland thing. But it's difficult for her to go without makeup, to strip bare. She also had to learn to walk flat-footed, because she spends her life in heels. Even barefoot, she walks on her tippy-toes."

O: How would you describe this film to a friend?

Daniels: "I'd say it's a story about getting over the worst obstacles in life. It's almost like a fairy tale. It's really a story of triumph."

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